Finally, Barack Obama Gets Specific About What “Change” Is

Barack Obama returned Tuesday night to Iowa, where the incredibly long Democratic nomination campaign began. He may not have officially declared victory, but he did unveil a new speech laying out his themes for the general election against John McCain:

. . . this year’s Republican primary was a contest to see which candidate could out-Bush the other, and that is the contest John McCain won. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans that once bothered Senator McCain’s conscience are now his only economic policy. The Bush health care plan that only helps those who are already healthy and wealthy is now John McCain’s answer to the 47 million Americans without insurance and the millions more who can’t pay their medical bills. The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too, and so is the fear of tough and aggressive diplomacy that has left this country more isolated and less secure than at any time in recent history. The lobbyists who ruled George Bush’s Washington are now running John McCain’s campaign, and they actually had the nerve to say that the American people won’t care about this. Talk about out of touch!

I will leave it up to Senator McCain to explain to the American people whether his policies and positions represent long-held convictions or Washington calculations, but the one thing they don’t represent is change.

Change is a tax code that rewards work instead of wealth by cutting taxes for middle-class families, and senior citizens, and struggling homeowners; a tax code that rewards businesses that create good jobs here in America instead of the corporations that ship them overseas. That’s what change is.

Change is a health care plan that guarantees insurance to every American who wants it; that brings down premiums for every family who needs it; that stops insurance companies from discriminating and denying coverage to those who need it most.

Change is an energy policy that doesn’t rely on buddying up to the Saudi Royal Family and then begging them for oil – an energy policy that puts a price on pollution and makes the oil companies invest their record profits in clean, renewable sources of energy that will create five million new jobs and leave our children a safer planet. That’s what change is.

Change is giving every child a world-class education by recruiting an army of new teachers with better pay and more support; by promising four years of tuition to any American willing to serve their community and their country; by realizing that the best education starts with parents who turn off the TV, and take away the video games, and read to our children once in awhile.

Change is ending a war that we never should’ve started and finishing a war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that we never should’ve ignored. Change is facing the threats of the twenty-first century not with bluster, or fear-mongering, or tough talk, but with tough diplomacy, and strong alliances, and confidence in the ideals that have made this nation the last, best hope of Earth. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy.

That is what change is. That is the choice in this election.

As far as I can tell, all of that "Change is…" language is brand new — and it’s exactly what I (among others) have been wanting to hear from Obama for nearly a year. From when he was trailing in the polls last September and October to when he caught up in January and as he forged a lead in February, my numbingly repetitive consistent prescription for Obama’s campaign was that he needed to "shore up [his] high-concept appeal by connecting it to more specific and tangible policy results."

As I wrote in mid-February, "connecting his candidacy with the specific agenda of problems America needs solved will make it harder for the Republican sludge machine to win by eviscerating him personally." Now that the battle has been more or less officially joined, I think each passing week will make it clearer that this is the tug-of-war that will define the presidential contest. Harold Meyerson put it well in the Washington Post last week:

There are good reasons Republicans are focusing on identity rather than issues this year: In poll after poll, there’s not a single major issue on which the public agrees with them or their presumptive nominee. Not Iraq, certainly. Not the economy. Should the election turn on the question of "What are you going to do for America?" rather than "Are you a real American?" Republicans are doomed.

Since back when I was writing about "the people’s business" just before the 2006 elections and "the American agenda" in the days afterward, I’ve felt that this divide over which party cares about solving the country’s problems (especially if it can be raised to a level of moral responsibility) is the key to a long-term realignment of voters with Democratic/progressive goals.

So I’m glad to see that Barack Obama embracing a more issue-based campaign strategy. Of course, having finally (if indirectly) taken my advice, he damn well better win. I don’t want to have to deal with both another Republican president and being proved wrong.

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